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Uptown, Edgewater, Rogers Park

Piping Plovers Return To Montrose Beach — And Lakefront Closure Could Mean More Chicks

Chicago's lakefront closure could be greatly beneficial to the endangered bird species.

Gov. JB Pritzker has proclaimed Nov. 18 as Piping Plover Day in Illinois.
Tamima Itani
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UPTOWN — Chicago’s most beloved endangered bird species has returned to the city.

Great Lakes piping plovers have been spotted at Montrose Beach this spring, said Bob Dolgan, a bird enthusiast and documentarian. The sighting is evidence the migratory birds may once again try to nest at the Far North Side park — one year after two piping plovers, Monty and Rose, successfully nested in the city for the first time in decades.

A Chicago Park District worker spotted the piping plovers at Montrose Beach, Dolgan said. The birds that were spotted are likely just stopping in Chicago as they continue their migration north, he said.

“They’re just stopping over in Chicago and Waukegan on their way to places like Sleeping Bear Dunes and North Manitou Island in Michigan,” Dolgan said.

Last year, Monty and Rose were first spotted in May at Montrose Beach, nesting at the popular lakefront park for the summer. Their choice to nest at the busy Montrose Beach set off a battle between environmentalists, beachgoers and concert promoters.

Volunteers including Dolgan worked to see the birds were not disturbed as they sought to mate at Montrose Beach. That caused a contentious fight with the organizers of electronic music festival Mamby on the Beach, which sought to hold its event near the birds’ nesting grounds. The festival was eventually canceled because of concerns for the birds’ safety.

Monty and Rose then successfully fledged two piping plover chicks before flying south for the winter sometime in August.

Monty and Rose have not yet been sighted in Chicago or Waukegan this year. But they could return, as birds often circle back to places where they have successfully nested before.

The birds’ heartwarming saga captivated Chicagoans all summer long. Gov. JB Pritzker even marked the events and the work of volunteer birders with Piping Plover Day on Nov. 18.

The federally protected birds are seldom seen in Illinois, and before this summer, piping plovers had not nested in city limits since 1955, said Dolgan, who filmed a documentary on Monty and Rose.

If the piping plovers decide to nest at Montrose Beach, their efforts could be aided by Chicago’s stay at home order.

In an effort to boost social distancing and other measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Mayor Lori Lightfoot closed down lakefront parks and trails in late March.

The decision has likely been a boon to the plovers and other shorebirds who stop at Montrose Beach, Dolgan and other bird enthusiasts said.

Birders aren’t allowed in Montrose Beach, but last week, a group of bird enthusiasts took to rooftops in Uptown to inspect the goings-on at the park, which includes a bird sanctuary. They saw a number of bird species including falcons and yellow belly sap suckers, said Josh Engel, an Uptown resident who gives birding tours around Chicago

“It could be great for the piping plovers,” Engel said. “It’s safe to assume [the closure] is great for birds because they are so unbothered.”

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